GENEVA: European countries must stop returning asylum seekers to Bulgaria due to risks of “degrading” mistreatment there, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday, as Sofia struggles with an influx from war-torn Syria.
“Asylum-seekers in Bulgaria face a genuine risk of inhuman or degrading treatment due to systemic deficiencies in reception conditions and asylum procedures,” said Babar Baloch, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
As a result, he said, the UNHCR wants a three-month suspension of applying rules in Bulgaria that require asylum seekers to be sent back to the first European country they arrived in.
Baloch said the U.N. agency had found “deplorable” conditions, such as lack of food and health care and arbitrary detention.
He also flagged concerns that Bulgaria had actively stopped refugees from crossing into the country.
Baloch said Bulgaria had made efforts to improve the situation, but that there were gaps between stated policies and the real situation.
“These gaps have worsened with the increase in the numbers of asylum seekers arriving in recent months, particularly those fleeing the conflict in Syria,” he noted.
Bulgaria, the EU’s poorest country, has found itself grossly unprepared to cope with an influx of thousands of refugees and has repeatedly appealed to other countries to share the burden.